Fish with human-like teeth found in Lake St. Clair

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

A few Michigan anglers this summer reeled in fish that smiled back with human-like teeth.

The fish are called pacus, and they are not supposed to be on the end of anglers’ lines, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. State officials say the fish are becoming an annual part of summer thanks to residents disposing of them in local rivers, streams and lakes.

In July, Michigan anglers caught three pacus — two in Lake St. Clair and another near Port Huron.

Pacus, or Piaractus brachypomus, are native to South America. They use their teeth to eat nuts and seeds.

With their red bellies, they are popular additions to aquariums here in the United States. But when they outgrow their tanks, owners often look for ways to get rid of them.

But while they may not be considered harmful, putting the fish in Michigan waters is illegal without a permit.

“Pet release is almost never humane,” said Nick Popoff, manager of the DNR’s Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit, in a press release. “Pets released from confined, artificial environments are poorly equipped to fend off predators and may be unable to successfully forage for food or find shelter.

“Those that do succeed in the wild can spread exotic diseases to native animals. In the worst-case scenario, released animals can thrive and reproduce, upsetting natural ecosystems to the degree that these former pets become invasive species.”

Despite being far from its natural home, pacus don’t qualify as an invasive species because they have not been designated as harmful to human health or the ecosystems where they’re found.

Michigan State University’s Paige Filice recommends taking certain steps when pacus outgrow their artificial homes.

“Rather than releasing it into a pond or stream, consider donating or trading it with another hobbyist, an environmental learning center, an aquarium or a zoo,” said Filice, who is part of a campaign called Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes. “You can also check with the pet store where you purchased the fish to see if they will take it back.”

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